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Minivan Comparison: 2021 Chrysler Pacifica vs 2021 Toyota Sienna logo 2021-06-09 Stephanie Wallcraft
a car parked in a parking lot © Provided by

It’s been a long time coming, but the opportunity is finally here: we’re comparing two all-wheel-drive minivans. Are you excited?!


Based on recent sales trends in Canada, we’re going to guess the answer is no. The three-row SUV is indisputably the family-hauler-du-jour , and minivans are too often looked down upon as those boxy, ugly monstrosities our parents drove.

But if you’ve made it this far, then we’re happy to report your curiosity is warranted. For many Canadian families – not all, mind you, but many, and we’ll get into that – a minivan is just an all-around better vehicle. And you can take it from us: me, a mother of one who has used minivans for everything from busing kids to birthday parties, moving houses, towing dirt bikes in a trailer, and even as overnight accommodation at national parks; and my co-tester,’s new Online Editor Renita Naraine, self-proclaimed minivan lover and mother of three, who owns a (less new) minivan she puts through its paces on a daily basis.

The vans in question here, all-wheel-drive notwithstanding, are two of the top contenders in the segment. On one side we have the 2021 Chrysler Pacifica Pinnacle AWD, from the automaker that loves to remind us it invented the minivan segment nearly 40 years ago and has been building them in Canada since day one. With all-wheel drive being available as part of the mid-cycle refresh for 2021, the Pacifica is the first Chrysler/FCA/Stellantis minivan to offer the feature since 2007. This unit is the entirely new Pinnacle grade, which aims to take the minivan into premium territory with quilted leather seats and second-row throw pillows. Including delivery charges, the Pacifica Pinnacle AWD rings up at $68,785.

Its opponent is the 2021 Toyota Sienna Limited AWD. Currently, this is the closest we could get a Sienna to the Pacifica Pinnacle in price; however, a Platinum grade with higher-end features is on the way but hasn’t yet been released. After spending almost 15 years as the only minivan in Canada with available all-wheel drive, the 2021 Sienna goes toe-to-toe with its new competition by kicking off its fourth generation, most notably by dropping the fuel-thirsty V6 in favour of a hybrid powertrain, which is standard equipment across the entire line-up. Our test unit, including fees, is priced at $60,157.

Hybrid vs gas-powered

Let’s talk about that hybrid powertrain in the Sienna first because it’s one of the most important points in this comparison. Every 2021 Sienna comes fitted with a 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine, which is combined with two electric motors on the front axle and, when all-wheel drive is added, a third electric motor powering the rear axle. All told, in either configuration, it produces a combined output of 245 horsepower. (Toyota doesn’t publish combined torque for hybrid powertrains; because the power from the engine and motors comes in at different points in the rev range, a total figure isn’t representative.)

This gives the Sienna a punchy hit of acceleration off the line that’s very pleasant in city driving. Managing Editor Jonathan Yarkony, who also recently spent time in this Sienna, appreciated its low-speed behaviour: “What I loved about the Sienna’s hybrid powertrain was how smooth it creeps when on torquey electric power, which is great for backing into my sloping driveway. Making such a large vehicle easier to park is a big win in my books.”

The enjoyment drops off some on the highway (or almost anytime the gas engine first kicks in) as the continuously variable transmission drones and the four-cylinder pushes the Sienna’s 2,189 kg (4,285 lb.) curb weight entirely on its own. But given how most vans are used most of the time, this seems like a fair trade.

On the other hand, the Pacifica in question here remains entirely gas-powered, employing a 3.6-litre V6. (There is a plug-in hybrid Pacifica, but it’s not available with all-wheel drive.) This engine makes 287 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque, the latter hitting peak availability at 4,000 rpm. It lacks the satisfaction that the hybrid supplies at low acceleration, but it feels more solid at higher speeds, particularly in situations where any volume of contents might add significantly to the 2,215 kg (4,883 lb.) curb weight. The bigger detractor here is the nine-speed automatic transmission, which is slow to downshift.

There’s one final element of these powertrains that merits a closer look, which is the all-wheel drive systems themselves. The Pacifica’s system is mechanically driven, which means that power is sent to the rear axle via a driveshaft that runs down the middle of the full length of the vehicle. It can send 100 percent of available torque to the rear wheels if conditions warrant it, and it can also disengage the driveshaft to improve fuel efficiency when AWD is not required. On the Sienna, there’s no room for a mechanical driveshaft because the battery is mounted under the chassis across the centre of the vehicle. Instead, all-wheel drive is activated on demand by engaging the electric motor on the rear axle, and the van runs in front-wheel drive the rest of the time. Having tested this system in snow, ice, mud, and wet gravel, I can attest to the fact that electronic all-wheel drive is no slouch; it does the job just fine in most situations. The Pacifica’s system would be more powerful overall between the two, but you’d need to be in a fairly nasty predicament to notice the difference.

Fuel efficiency

Do most minivan drivers care about differentials and driven wheels in this much detail? Possibly not. But they sure as heck care about fuel efficiency, and that’s this comparison’s biggest takeaway. When we compare the Pacifica AWD ratings from Natural Resources Canada of 14.1 litres per 100 kilometres in city driving, 9.4 on the highway, and 12.0 combined, versus the Sienna AWD’s ratings of 6.8, 6.6, and 6.7 respectively, the Pacifica’s published figures are nearly double those of the Sienna. Our real-world testing validated this: we registered an average of 14.6 L/100 km in the Pacifica over two weeks and 7.8 L/100 km in the Sienna during the same timeframe.

One would think the hybrid powertrain in the Sienna would give people who tow frequently a reason to stay away, but that’s not the case: it’s rated for a maximum towing capacity of 1,585 kg (3,494 lb.), in line with that of the previous generation and close enough to the Pacifica’s rating of 1,633 kg (3,600 lb.) to be a non-factor.


The Sienna wins on rearmost cargo capacity by fitting 949 litres behind its third row as opposed to the Pacifica’s 915 litres. But it loses ground thereafter with 2,129 litres of space behind the second and 2,860 litres behind the first, as compares to the Pacifica’s measurements of 2,478 and 3,979 respectively. Some of this can be attributed to the Pacifica being a wider vehicle overall, measuring 2,022 mm to the Sienna’s 1,995 mm. You wouldn’t guess that from driving them back-to-back, though: the Sienna drives as though it’s wider than it is, while the Pacifica comes across as nimbler and more maneuverable. However, Naraine says this might be the one thing we disagree on, “I may be a bit biased based on how much I loved the tested Sienna , but the Pacifica seemed like a bulkier drive to me. Meanwhile on the inside, I felt as though I had so much more space in the Sienna, even though the Pacifica’s measurements are proven wider.”

Dropping the third-row seats out of the way in both vans is relatively easy, perhaps slightly more so with the Pacifica’s power-dropping feature (“It’s game-changing if you’re used to driving older minivans,” says Naraine) included on this Pinnacle and on the Limited grade. But the second-row seats must be much easier to get out of the way with that Stow ‘n Go feature, you say? Not so fast. Stow ‘n Go seats are standard on every grade of the Pacifica, except for the Pinnacle. Here, the captain’s chairs are much more robust with sturdier seatbacks and more cushioning, plus they’re upholstered with thick and quilted Nappa leather. The trade-off of these premium finishes is that the seats can’t fold down into the space provided for the Stow ‘n Go feature.

So, if you need the Pacifica Pinnacle’s full cargo space, you’ll be hauling your captain’s chairs out and storing them in your garage, just like Sienna owners do. Time will tell whether the premium seats are enough of a draw to convince people to give up that convenience, but to my mind the spontaneity permitted by the Stow ‘n Go second-row seats are the number one reason to choose a Chrysler minivan. Plus, Stellantis missed an opportunity by not giving these upgraded seats an elongated floor track and available fold-out footrest, which are features that can be found not only on the Sienna but also on the new Kia Carnival . Both of those vehicles offer a much more flexible space in the rear cabin as a result.

Entertainment and technology

The Pacifica gains back some ground when we look at the entertainment and technology features, with one exception. Stellantis’s Uconnect system, here displayed on a 10.1-inch touchscreen, is one of the best on the market with its combination of clear graphics, great usability, and easy-to-use controls mounted on the back of the steering wheel. “One of the coolest features in the Pacifica is the FamCam on the infotainment system,” explained Naraine. “There’s a little camera above the second- and third-row seats, and now, parents can finally give the eyes in the back of their heads a little rest.”

The second-row Uconnect Theatre system, which is an option on most grades but is included with Pinnacle, has a screen for each captain’s chair mounted on the backs of the front-row seats. On top of HDMI inputs, wireless streaming is available through apps such as Miracast, and there are some new built-in games that can be played alone or with the other second-row passenger. And as a nice bonus, not having to use roof space means that the Pacifica Pinnacle comes with a large panoramic sunroof.

The Sienna’s entertainment for the rear cabin is still the roof-mounted, single-screen system, which might be fine as long as everyone wants to look at the same thing. “And as long as you don’t mind that part of your rearview-mirror view is blocked,” Naraine added. This screen can also accept inputs via HDMI and Miracast, but another advantage of the hybrid powertrain surfaces here: in the second row and in the cargo space, you’ll find 120-volt, 1500-watt household plugs. These are capable of running DVD players, video game systems, or small appliances like microwaves. This means that rear passengers can connect and power systems like an Xbox or PS5, and because the power draws from the hybrid battery, there’s no concern that you’ll be left rummaging for your booster cables. Turns out electrification has more benefits than one might think.

As for Toyota’s primary infotainment system, here it’s displayed on a nine-inch touchscreen. The graphic display is functional and responds quickly enough, but it’s on the busy side, and the layout of the buttons makes the ones on the far side of the screen harder to reach for drivers with shorter limbs. It’s an improvement over the brand’s previous systems, but the Uconnect system is better.

Final thoughts

Ground clearance is another important discussion since that’s a measurement that would send many potential minivan owners back into SUVs. On the Pacifica, you’ll find 13.7 cm of clearance on the AWD version, which is lower than that of some cars. The Sienna’s published ground clearance is 16.2 cm – which is not all the way into utility vehicle territory, but it’s a lot closer. If you regularly use routes that are much rougher or more poorly maintained than your typical gravel road, then you might be one of those rare families that would truly be better served by a large SUV. The Pacifica’s figure merits some pause even for city dwellers, but for most urban and suburban families, the Sienna’s will be enough.

A few more points for and against: we happen not to be fans of the colour chosen for the Nappa leather in the Pacifica, but the material quality is nice. The second-row lumbar pillows are a nice touch but not exactly an attraction since we both agreed they would either be missing or gummed up within a month in our respective households. The materials in the Sienna aren’t at quite the same level, but the colours on this interior are bright and pleasant and offer plenty of visual interest.

The Pacifica Pinnacle has an onboard vacuum, while the Sienna Limited doesn’t; this feature is coming on the Sienna Platinum, which will likely be priced closer to the Pacifica in this comparison. The Sienna has available hands-free, kick-operated sliding side doors, a segment first. Both vehicles are roughly on par in terms of safety features, but it’s worth noting that the 2021 Sienna gets a Top Safety Pick+ rating from the IIHS , while the Pacifica gets mostly the best-available Good ratings but scores Acceptable for its structure and safety cage.

While it’s great to finally have some competition in all-wheel-drive minivans and the 2021 Chrysler Pacifica Pinnacle AWD is clearly superior in specific qualities, we agree it’s the 2021 Toyota Sienna Limited that stands out in the ways that matter most to Canadian families. Its excellent fuel efficiency, flexible interior space, attractive finishes, and thoughtful features make it one of the best all-around family vehicles on the market today, minivan or otherwise.


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